Professor Alan Gange - Royal Holloway, University of London

Name: Professor Alan Gange, Professor of Microbial Ecology, School of Biological Sciences

Institution: Royal Holloway, University of London

"We have had several instances where Nuffield school bursars have been inspired by their experience during the summer and have subsequently chosen to come to Royal Holloway for their undergraduate degree. A few have even gone on to be awarded a Nuffield Undergraduate Research Bursary and worked here during their summer vacation again."

Over the past 16 years, Professor Alan Gange has taken on over 30 Nuffield students (both undergraduate and school level). We asked him what he thought of the scheme...

What do you feel are the main benefits to your organisation to taking on a Nuffield school bursar?
The Nuffield bursary scheme gives us the opportunity to engage young people with our research. It also gives our postgraduate students their first experience of student supervision.

For us as a lab, having Nuffield students has been really helpful – it means we can complete the experiment in less time of course, but it also adds value to our work by exploring new avenues, and gives us the data required to enable us to write a big research proposal. Some of the work done with Nuffield students has even been published. For example, our student Soma Dey worked on a project looking at ecological correlates of endophytic fungal occurance in herbaceous plants. Her work contributed to a publication in the Journal of Ecology, of which she was an author. Click here to read the article in full.

What do you feel are the main benefits for school students from taking part in the scheme?
It gives students a direct insight into what research is really like – that it doesn’t go according to plan every time! They learn how we solve problems in the lab, and how we design our experiments. It also introduces them to statistical analysis, so that they begin to understand why we need to obtain quantitative data and how to compare it.

Have you found it productive to have school and undergraduate bursary students at the same time?
We have had several projects where Nuffield undergraduate bursars have worked alongside Nuffield school bursars, and we have found that this brings a huge degree of synergism to the work. On each occasion, the team were brilliant. I also try to have a postgraduate and post-doctoral researcher working in the team, so that they all gain supervisory skills.

One project that springs to mind is where we had an undergraduate and school student working on isolating fungi from different parts of the same plant. One worked on the roots, and the other on the shoots, and then with the help of a postgraduate they were able to culture the fungi and reveal the complete picture. I have found this type of approach very successful.

After graduation…
Alan has also been successful in recruiting PhD students through the Nuffield Undergraduate Research Bursary Scheme. One of his current PhD students is Su Hodgson, a mature student who had an undergraduate bursary in 2006. Su said “I never imagined I would go on to do a PhD. I started at university as a mature student as my children have now grown up a bit. I never thought that life as a researcher would be for me, but after the experience working in the lab on my Nuffield placement I was convinced that this was what I wanted to do.”